September 12, 2017 / 1:58 PM / 10 months ago

Irma power outages down to 6.9 mln in U.S. Southeast -utilities

NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Power outages from Hurricane Irma in Florida and nearby states declined to about 6.9 million customers on Tuesday from a peak over 7.4 million late Monday as utilities organized one of the biggest restoration efforts in U.S. history.

Some customers in the hardest hit areas of Florida, however, will likely have to wait weeks before their lights come back on.

Major utilities in Florida - including NextEra Energy Inc’s Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Corp and Emera Inc’s Tampa Electric - have mobilized tens of thousands of workers to deal with the enormous power outages after Hurricane Irma landed early Sunday.

“This is likely to be one of the largest and most complex power restoration efforts in U.S. history,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group.

“An army of more than 50,000 workers from across the United States and Canada is now dedicated to supporting the industry’s Irma restoration efforts,” Kuhn said. That number includes workers from affected companies, mutual assistance crews from other utilities, contractors and other support personnel, he said.

Some Florida utilities, including FPL, warned customers it could take weeks to restore power in the hardest hit areas because infrastructure systems in some of those places will need to be rebuilt.

Irma hit southwest Florida on Sunday morning as a dangerous Category 4 storm, the second-highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It gradually weakened as it headed through the state, becoming a tropical storm and then a tropical depression on Monday.

Most outages were still in FPL’s service area in the southern and eastern parts of Florida. FPL, the state’s biggest power company, said its outages dipped below 2.9 million by Tuesday morning from a peak of over 3.6 million Monday morning.

In total more than 4.5 million FPL customers were affected by the storm, with over 1.6 million having their service restored already, mostly by automated devices.

Florida outages for Duke, the state’s second biggest power company serving the northern and central parts of the state, remained at about 1.2 million overnight, according to the company’s website, while Duke’s outages in North and South Carolina climbed to about 160,000.

In Georgia, utilities reported over 1.2 million customers without power Tuesday morning, down from a peak of over 1.4 million on Monday night.

FPL said its two nuclear plants in Florida were safe. Both reactors at its Turkey Point facility, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Miami, remained shut early Tuesday, while both reactors at its St. Lucie plant, about 120 miles (190 km) north of Miami, were operating at full power.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Frances Kerry

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